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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Water Crisis

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, June 15, 2018/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, sustainability, environment, climate change


Visualization Where Freshwater Storage is Higher (blue) or Lower (red) than the Average 2002-2016 (credit: NASA)

In a '1st-of-its-kind' study, the space agency NASA has combined diverse Earth satellite observations with data on human activities to map 'hotspots' where freshwater is changing around the globe. Publishing in Nature, Matt Rodell at the Goddard Space Flight Center and others found the Earth’s wetlands are getting wetter while drylands are getting drier. The changes were mapped using 14 years of satellite measurements. They are due to multiple factors including human water-use management, climate change, and natural cycles. Rodell compared global observations gathered by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission to track and map global freshwater trends over 34 regions. Collaborator Jay Famiglietti at the Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said: What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change. We see a distinctive pattern of the wetland areas of the world getting wetter – those in the high latitudes and the tropics – and the dryland areas in between getting dryer. Embedded within the dry areas we see multiple "hotspots" resulting from groundwater depletion. NASA article concludes that water availability is one of the greatest environmental and international challenges facings countries everywhere. Potentially 50% of the world's population is now facing water supply limitations.

Published virtually simultaneous to the NASA study, a 'case study' of water stress appeared from India. That populous country is currently experiencing a severe water crisis and the situation may be the worst in its history. A lengthy report on the crisis, the Composite Water Management 2018, was released by the National Institute to Transform India (NITI). It stated: data was gathered from 24 of India's 29 states (83%) and shows the current (water) situation is only going to get worse with 21 cities likely to run out of groundwater by 2020. The consultants added: It’s a matter of great concern that 600 million people in India face high to extreme water stress. About three-fourths of Indian households do not have drinking water at their premise. With nearly 70% of the India's water being contaminated, the country is now placed at 120th amongst 122 countries in water quality ranking. The groundwater prediction is only two years away.

Pursuing a personal investigation of a water supply in India a pair of American mountaineers, Pete McBride and Jake Norton, traced the Ganges River from peaks in the high Himalaya to the Bay of Bengal. They "followed the water" from source-to-sea. Their trek resulted in a documentary film, Holy, un-Holy River, that has now toured around the world. The film tells the powerful story of a sacred river revered by a billion people, depended upon directly by 500 million people for sustenance and is considered the source of life and death. The documentary serves as a cautionary tale of inspiration, water pollution, and an environmental tragedy. It is a call to action that appeared well before the newly released articles.

India isn't alone in facing 'water woes'. Australia, South Africa, and the Colorado River (that feeds the entire western USA), all face serious demand, drawdown, and conservation issues.

The issues surrounding water supply are well known and well documented. However, solutions remain scattered and contentious. Depending on specific locations, improvement in water use could include changing use patterns such as consumer pricing, replacing agricultural systems with more drought tolerant crops, recycling waste water, desalinization, and basic water conservation. Many of these likely represent big challenges from vested interests to implement. India may have only two years to implement working solutions to their water situation.

The issue of climate change that is being racked by NASA and others remains a consistent background matter.



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